ZHEROS feels and plays like a blast from the past. Part homage, part side scrolling beat ’em up, ZHEROS does have a very distinct arcade feel, from the style of gameplay, to the music, and this all does slowly start coming together over the first few levels of play to create an enjoyable game that knows it’s strengths and tries mightily to show them off.
Playing as either the chisel jawed Mike, or the svelte and flexible Dorian, you are tasked with fighting your way through each level, hitting multipliers through combo’s and putting a stop to Dr Vendetta’s plan to mutate everything in the universe. I found myself playing as Captain Dorian as she somehow felt quicker and less cumbersome than Mike, but ultimately both characters play in a similar fashion, both come equipped with light and heavy attacks, a defensive button and a pistol that can be used to chain combos together. During certain levels you can take control of a mech suit, upgrading a characters moves to achieve greater damage and a bigger score, or at least until it’s battery runs out.
Fighting is quick, if a bit stunted at first as you get to grips with the combo layout, but once you play past the first few levels that serve largely as the games tutorial, enemies come thick and fast enough that those high multipliers can be achieved quite easily with a few well placed button presses. A few enemies require certain attacks in order to make them vulnerable, such as the shield carriers who need a charged heavy attack directed at them before they drop their shield, but each new enemies weakness is signposted in-game as they are introduced and as such don’t cause too much of a problem if taken out accordingly.
The game itself is fine to look at, the graphics reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon, which works well alongside the slapstick humour the game employs at times, and it is clear ZHEROS doesn’t take itself too seriously. The music is typical arcade fare, and as such it does grate after a while, but all in all the game is put together nicely, and it does have a distinct retro feel to it, with a few modern gaming elements such as a moves list to check out the wealth of combos and saving thrown in for good measure. If you loved the old arcade side-scrollers such as Streets of Rage or Double Dragon then think of this as their newest and youngest sibling, and you will no doubt find something to enjoy.
Both the defence and the pistol attack rely on a blue power bar that depletes when either move is used, but can be refilled by collecting the blue orbs from fallen enemies. Similarly, smashing orange crates throughout each level generate orange orbs that can be collected and then used to upgrade your character between each level, and health can be refilled by destroying the green barrels dotted around each level. Both of these mechanics are tropes we have seen before, and I think that is my main problem with ZHEROS – it doesn’t do anything new or innovative with what is a well-known and well-played genre. Don’t get me wrong, ZHEROS is enjoyable to play, but I did take a few tries before I got into it, and this wasn’t down to the game being overly difficult or lack of enjoyment on my part. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that was preventing me from diving into ZHEROS with gusto, and then it hit me – I felt like I was playing the game on autopilot, not really thinking about what I was doing besides bashing buttons and moving from one stage to the next. The villain, introduced during the opening cinematic, is easily forgotten among the waves of robots that litter the way between the beginning of the level and the end, and the storyline becomes secondary to bashing buttons and achieving combos to get a hi-score – all fine, acceptable goals in a game, but I did find myself booting up some other game instead when given the choice.
This I feel is the main problem with ZHEROS – it doesn’t do enough to make itself stand out among a crowd of side-scrolling beat ’em ups, playing like a multitude of games that have come before it. I can’t emphasise enough that I did enjoy playing ZHEROS, but I did find my attention being drawn to other games waiting to be started that lay on my shelf, as I think this is the main problem ZHEROS has, in that it has released at a time when there are literally stacks of games vying for our hard-earned cash. Does ZHEROS do enough to warrant our attention? It does, and both the £15.99 price tag and the fact that it is this months free game with Xbox Live will surely help it along nicely, but I can’t help think that had it avoided a less crowded time of year in the gaming calendar it might have done a whole lot better.
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